When it comes to carpet, most homeowners rely on conventional wisdom passed down through the generations to solve their spill and stain issues. What’s interesting to note is that much of what we think we know about cleaning runs completely counter to what professional carpet cleaners and manufacturers deem healthy for carpets. Daniel McPherson of Clean As A Whistle in Houston explains the downfalls of those conventional wisdom tips and shares actual best practice methods homeowners should use when cleaning carpet stains.
Conventional Wisdom: Scrubbing Stains
The tendency is to think that vigorous agitation is the best way to attack any stain, but scrubbing is very bad for carpets. Rubbing at the stain will often cause it to embed even more deeply in the carpet fibers. “Carpet fibers are very porous,” Daniel notes. “If you start scrubbing a stain, it will start to fill in those pores, which in essence is going to create a permanent color change or stain in that spot.”
Best Practice: Blotting Stains
By blotting instead of scrubbing, you are using the wicking action of liquid to gently pull the stain out. “You want the stain to float to the top without being intrusive,” Daniel explains. Additionally, blotting ensures that a natural fiber carpet, like wool, maintains its texture. If the carpet’s texture is roughed up by scrubbing or by using a stiff brush on it, Daniel points out that the fibers in that area will never return to normal, and the wear will show.
Conventional Wisdom: Cleaning Solutions
There’s a world of home carpet cleaning products on the market, but their value as a permanent solution to carpet stain woes is questionable. Most of the common products we buy for cleaning purposes are simply too alkaline. “Any product that is high in alkalinity is going to leave a residue behind,” says Daniel. “The carpet’s going to look great at first, but over time that residue acts like a magnet, and all of the dirt collects in that spot.” That’s often the reason that carpets seem to resoil in exactly the same spots that were cleaned.
Best Practice: Plain Water
Surprisingly, water by itself is highly recommended as a tool for fighting both stains and the residue resulting from consumer carpet cleaning solutions. “Water is a natural solvent,” says Daniel. “You would be surprised at all the stains it will get out.” Additionally, a rinse with plain water after using a carpet cleaner will neutralize the alkaline residue and prevent resoiling. Just be sure to avoid overwetting the carpet, and dry the area thoroughly.
Conventional Wisdom: No Shoes on the Carpet
We all know those people who are fanatical about having shoes removed when anyone enters the house. They often take some good-natured ribbing for the habit, but as it turns out, they have their carpet’s best interest in mind. Dry soil, like that tracked in from outdoors, creates abrasion. When it’s constantly ground into the carpet by walking back and forth, it wears on the fibers and can leave the carpet more vulnerable to staining after a short time.
Best Practice: No Bare Feet, Either!
While it might seem that taking shoes out of the equation is the way to go, having bare feet in regular contact with the carpet poses its own problem. Oil-based soils are the most difficult to get out of carpet, and as Daniel notes, bare feet can transfer “a lot of natural body oils that get onto the carpet. You might actually be doing more damage.” For walking around at home, Daniel suggests clean white socks as the best foot covering.
Help! Do I Need a Professional?
While most of us can handle our own minor cleanup, there are times when you really just need to pick up the phone and call in a pro.
|If you've spilled:
||Blot using a white terry cloth or damp paper towel. A professional is not usually required for these types of stains.
|Coffee, Fruit Juice, Wine (red or white)
||Blot as much excess liquid as possible using a white terry cloth or damp paper towel, without agitating. Then, call a professional.
||Flood area with cold water, then blot with a clean white towel. If the blood stain is extensive, call a professional.
Stains caused by liquids that are high in tannins (like red wine or coffee) or have bright dyes (like fruit juices and punches) are almost always in need of professional help in order to get the best results. Water-based liquids without much additional coloring, such as beer and milk, are less likely to require more than patience and plain water.
The Top Thing You Can Do Now to Maintain Your Carpet
The one thing most recommended by carpet cleaning professionals for keeping carpets in top shape is also one of the easiest: vacuuming.
Abrasion from everyday dirt is the biggest detriment to the life and beauty of your carpet. The evidence is there in the carpet’s wear pattern and texture, especially in high-traffic areas of the house. “Those everyday actions of walking across it damage and shorten the life of carpet more than anything—not spills or stains.” Weekly vacuuming removes the maximum amount of soil from the carpet to prevent wear and tear. In fact, it is such an integral part of maintenance that many manufacturers include it in their terms of warranty. “You’ll really prolong the life of your carpet by vacuuming regularly,” says Daniel. “It’s the best thing you can do.”
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